Dave Lindsey: How ‘focus = growth’ for rapid business expansion involves the ‘main thing’

Dave Lindsey, founder, Defender Direct

Dave Lindsey, founder, Defender Direct

You will never get it all done!

My first job out of grad school was managing one product line, no people and a “to do” list that was a mile long.

I remember breaking down to my dad one night, who at that time was a bank executive who managed multiple divisions, hundreds of people and a lot more responsibility than I could ever comprehend. I was beyond frustrated working 70+ hour work weeks yet I couldn’t manage to get everything done, and my to-do list kept growing!

That’s when Dad gave me some of the best advice that I have ever received. He said, “David, they don’t pay you to get it all done. They pay you to get the most important things done.” Wow! That simple phrase changed my life.

Let me clarify by saying that some jobs, entry level specifically, do warrant the employee to get everything done; all phones need to be answered, hamburgers cooked, etc. prior to leaving for the day.

But as we begin to move up the ranks of responsibility we don’t want to take this mentality with us. When we are managing people, places or things, the options of what we spend our time on grows exponentially. We can conduct training, print a new catalogue, go to a meeting … the list goes on and on.


Learn to focus

So many options and requests on our time and soon, we find that we can never get it all done. This is why it is imperative that as we grow in our positions, we learn to focus on the right things.

The power of prioritization is undeniable in terms of your future success and in order to be exponentially successful, you must learn how to differentiate time management from prioritization.

Peter Drucker says it best: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” Don’t waste your energy just crossing things off your “to do” list. Instead, spend some time prioritizing. Then pour your energy into the projects and tasks that you have deemed to be the most important things to complete today.

In the early days of Defender, I was a young entrepreneur obsessed with thoughts about how I could grow our business. As Defender grew, our team members were presented with new opportunities everywhere we turned.

While sometimes it was hard to turn away from an opportunity to sell what was presented as the “next big thing,” early on I took a step back to really evaluate our business. Every time we said yes to a new idea or product, it meant more training, more options, more complexity.


Stay in focus

Success does create more and new opportunities, but that means we must stay focused say no more often! Otherwise, our team and focus will fragment and slow us down.

I hear so many stressed out business leaders say, “But it’s all important!” However, by definition, if everything is important, then nothing is important.

If you want to be the leader of a high performance, fast-growth business, then your No. 1 job is to figure out what is most important and to “keep the main thing as the main thing.”

Still, today I divide my to-do list into A,B,C and D priorities and every morning I write my top three A priorities on a Post-It note, which I carry with me throughout the day as a reminder to keep me focused.

If each day I can get my top three most important things done amongst the chaos of life, I figure I’ll have a pretty successful life.

Remember, there will always be more things to do than there is time to do them. You’ll never get it all done and your “to do” list will never be empty. Let this philosophy release you from the stress of trying to get it all done and put that new energy into getting the right things done today.

Tony Little: Marketing muscle

Tony Little, Founder, President and CEO, Health International Corp.

Tony Little, Founder, President and CEO, Health International Corp.

You’ve come up with a great idea for a product, gotten it trademarked and patented, finalized the design specifications and lined up financing and distribution. Everyone is clamoring for your gizmo. Now all you have to do is get the item manufactured and delivered to all those distributors and retailers who will be selling millions of units to eager consumers. Find the cheapest manufacturer and you’re all set, right? Well, not exactly.

As you begin your search, you’ll notice that most manufacturing these days is done outside of the United States. Typically, we’re talking about a faraway country where English is not the primary language, which can make communications difficult. When you factor in cultural differences, which can also be an issue, you’re dealing with a lot that can go wrong before the first shipment arrives at your loading dock.

In dealing with foreign-based manufacturers, I cannot overemphasize the importance of finding a liaison in the area that can be your “eyes on the ground” and function as a bridge between the company and you. You need to be able to trust this person and their organization, and that they understand your business, its goals and how you think, as they’ll be functioning in your place usually many time zones away.

As for the criteria in selecting a manufacturer, it’s really no different than choosing someone to look after your children. A great resume, recommendations from previous employers and personal references mean everything.

It is essential to think of your manufacturer as a partner in your venture, not just a vendor. This means you have to trust their opinions when it comes to their area of expertise. It’s a big mistake to just hand them specifications, walk away and expect your shipment of finished products to be perfect. I look at it as a team effort. If they make suggestions on how to execute my product, I always take the opportunity to listen. If it sounds reasonable, I almost always let them do it. Of course, take the time to see and test a final product sample before giving your final OK.

I had a shoe product a few years ago that was extremely successful — a sandal made of ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA). In a rush to make an on-air sales date that was expected to generate huge sales, we decided to change manufacturers. Our existing vendor was great, but they weren’t equipped to handle that kind of volume, so we switched to a larger company that was very reputable. Despite claiming to be proficient in working with EVA, the new manufacturer had problems with the injection molding, resulting in a high degree of variability in the sandal’s arch supports. We wound up with a high return rate for the batch, which was a tremendous pain and let our brand customer down. It wound up costing us zillions of dollars, but fortunately we were able to make good on all the orders. Shortly afterward, we found a new company, but we learned a valuable lesson from the experience.

One of the biggest issues currently facing product-based companies is mounting manufacturing costs everywhere in the world. One solution for me has been to provide additional value to what I’m selling that compensates for the higher prices. For example, if I’m offering a piece of exercise equipment that has seen its price increase by say, $25 from last year because of higher manufacturing costs, it’s hard to pass that cost onto the consumer and still sell successfully. To offset that, I can include a fitness DVD, CD or computer memory stick that carries the equivalent retail value that makes up for the difference. My manufacturing costs will be relatively minimal for the additional item, but the consumer will receive more in return.

The current economy aside, there will always be challenges in manufacturing that call for a healthy balance of common sense, trust and out-of-the-box thinking, not to mention the ability to learn from one’s mistakes. Ultimately, it’s all about the golden rule of any brand: keep your customers loyal and loving you by treating them well.

There’s always a way.

Tony Little is the president, CEO and founder of Health International Corp. Known as “America’s personal trainer,” he has been a television icon for more than 20 years. After overcoming a car accident that nearly took his life, Little learned how to turn adversity into victory. Known for his wild enthusiasm, Little is responsible for revolutionizing direct-response marketing and television home shopping. Today, his company has sold more than $3 billion in products. Reach him at [email protected].

No Languishing in Legal Lament: Turning Tables on the Traumatic

Kevin Daum

Shakespeare said, “First kill all the lawyers.”  At first glance this seems a tad aggressive but for most people the last thing you look forward to is someone showing up at your door with a subpoena.  Regardless of whether a lawsuit is business related or personal the thought of engaging an attorney for protracted litigation can drive fear into a person’s heart.

Not only is there emotion and argument to contend with, but the shear unknown of exorbitant fees being charged to you at hundreds of dollars per hour with no end in sight is enough to terrorize anyone.  Even most attorneys, particularly litigators will advise people to avoid litigation at all costs.

I have been involved in two lawsuits in my 46-year lifetime.  The first required me to do most of my own legal work.  It resulted in the other side dismissing with prejudice after I showed the plaintiff’s attorney his own ignorance by demonstrating his client had committed fraud, which he had missed, even though the signs were obvious.  That one cost me $29,000 in non-recoverable legal fees just to demonstrate what I (and everyone else) knew from the start.  The problem is that many attorneys such as this one believe they are right and often righteous even when they are not.

Last year I engaged in my second lawsuit.  This time it was my divorce after 24 years of marriage.  Although things started amicably, emotions were high and I soon found myself on the receiving end of a New York matrimonial attorney who happily made his living off the misery of others.  Now certainly there are plenty of situations where people need someone to represent them as an advocate, but more often than not, attorneys like this one will charge ahead to spend a retainer without fully reviewing the case.  I am pleased to say that this attorney stopped his useless crusade once he had used up twice my ex-wife’s retainer and realized he had a losing case that was not going to yield him any more money. However the emotional and financial damage he inflicted on his client was a shameful example of the challenge of dealing with lawyers and based on Shakespeare’s 400-year-old quote, is nothing new.

As one who recoils from the mere mention of lawsuits, I learned a few things from my bout with this divorce lawyer that are worthy of sharing.  Since I finished my divorce without hiring counsel to defend against him and ultimately came out with a settlement agreed to be fair by both sides once he was gone, these should be tips that will help to keep more money out of the pockets of lawyers who don’t have their client’s best interest at heart.

Don’t Be Bullied

Attorneys are trained to be aggressive.  Law school is a brutal and competitive atmosphere where only the strong survive.  Don’t let their aggressive tactics and blustering ramp up your emotions to the point where you lose sight of truth and fairness.  Lawyers are people too and you can stand up to them and take the high road.  Law is not rocket science.  You can do the basic research and work without spending thousands of dollars in many cases. Take an intelligent active role in your defense even if you have counsel representing you. (This saves you money by the way.) Once you learn the law you can attack on your own behalf.  I wrote many emails showing this attorney where he was wrong and negligent bordering on malpractice.

Tell the Truth

If you are in the wrong then settlement is probably your best approach, but if you are legitimately right then stand up for your defense and provide the facts as they occurred.  In both my cases, I stood by the truth and the law without any manipulation or legal shenanigans.  That allowed me to maintain consistency and moral superiority, which helped with my confidence in beating both attorneys.  My motivation was truth and their motivation was greed.  Truth is a better foundation for a sustainable battle.

Maintain Your Sense of Humor

This is how you take a traumatic experience like litigation and turn it into an Awesome Experience.  Trauma never actually seems as bad when you are in the middle of it.  Rather than letting my emotions get the best of me, I turned to humor.  In my many emails to the attorney spelling out the law and facts, I used a tone filled with irony and humor.  I even sent him lawyer jokes.  I found ways to catch him off guard and take him off his game.  Although it irritated my ex-wife, I focused my barbs and jabs at the attorney.  Ultimately I showed him that I was fully prepared to demonstrate the ridiculous nature of his actions and that in litigation I would be likeable and paint him as the nasty evil villain.  The emails I sent had some of my funniest writing to date. Writing them helped me keep my cool and express my anger in a productive way.  If you don’t take your opponent or yourself too seriously you have a better chance of keeping a clear head and seeing the opportunities for success.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself that will help keep the attorney’s away or at least prepare you for the day the subpoena shows up.

1. How can you have a basic understanding of the law related to your job and business?

2. How can you easily document facts that relate to potential legal issues at your company?

3. What are your first five steps should you receive a business or personal subpoena?

4. Where are you vulnerable in your dealings by not being truthful?

5. What are your top 3 favorite lawyer jokes?

I am happy to say that there are more and more attorneys building successful practices on litigation prevention and civil resolution.  Even in the contentious matrimonial world a young New York lawyer named Daniel Yaniv has built a fast growing practice based upon uncontested divorces for less than $1000.  Hopefully this is a trend and the remaining self-serving, greedy attorneys will be left to move on to join their colleagues in the other profession where they seem to thrive… politics.

KEVIN DAUM is the principal of TAE International and the author of the Amazon #1 Bestsellers “ROAR! Get Heard in the Sales and Marketing Jungle” and “Green$ense For the Home: Rating the Real Payoff on 50 Green Home Projects” both available at www.AwesomeRoar.com. He is a speaker and provides marketing consulting. Reach him at [email protected]

Overcome your fear of change

“The new owners are changing everything, and there are rumors that my entire division will be reorganized,” my friend Bob said to me over lunch. “I can’t believe this is happening. Why couldn’t things have stayed the way they were?”

I know my face showed the astonishment I felt, not over the changes in his company but over the change in Bob. For as long as he had worked there, Bob had been the resident expert on all that was wrong in the organization, from poor management and shifting priorities to the quality of the food in the cafeteria. And now he was upset that things were finally changing?

What had happened?

In facing one of the most significant changes of his life, Bob had become so afraid of what might happen that he actually preferred his negative situation over an uncertain future. His fear made him unable to see that this change might create the very outcome he had wanted for years.

Fear is always at the heart of our resistance to change. Like Bob, it’s not really the changes we fear; what we fear is their uncertainty. One of the greatest lessons in the business of life is that we have the power to choose how we deal with uncertainty.

If you are faced with the uncertainty of change, remember that there are three decisions you will inevitably make. The decisions are not optional — you will make them — but what you choose will always be up to you.

You will decide what you’re going to focus on
Every change has the possibility of either a positive or a negative outcome. The organizational change that might eliminate your job could also create the opportunity for a promotion or align you with a new leader who will become your greatest mentor.

Often, both outcomes are equally likely. But which one do you usually focus on? My friend Bob not only focused on the worst, he envisioned a bad outcome in such vivid detail that he became almost certain it would happen.

This imagined outcome was so real to him that it affected his health, his performance at work, and ultimately, his relationships at home. At a time when he needed his best performance, all his energy and the full support of his family, he chose a focus that robbed him of all three.

Why not decide to focus more broadly on all the possibilities and consistently envision something good coming from them? No matter what actually happens, choosing this mindset every day will channel your fear of uncertainty into the kind of attitude and performance that create opportunity.

You will decide what you’re prepared to do
Change forces choices. Whether you have to take on expanded responsibilities, learn a new skill, or adapt to a new boss, times of change don’t allow you to stand still. Each new demand forces you to decide what you are willing to do.

But how can you make these decisions if you don’t know what you want?

Use this time to make a new plan for your career and for the life you want. Without a plan, every new demand is just more work. But if you know where you want to go, you could find that the new skill you are being forced to learn actually moves you closer to your dream job for the future.

You will decide who you will become
No matter what changes you are facing, the most important change is happening inside you. Are you becoming bitter and angry, or are you seeing the hopeful possibilities and encouraging the people around you? Are you becoming inflexible and difficult, or are you stretching out of your comfort zone and learning new things?

Take a hard look at yourself. Others may have created the changes you face, but you are choosing who you become because of them.

Change is inevitable. But based on the decisions you make, it can be a resentful struggle, or it can be a time when you learn your most valuable lessons, discover inner strength and capacity, and reveal who you really are.

The choice is up to you.

Jim Huling is CEO of MATRIX Resources Inc., an IT services company that has achieved industry-leading financial growth while receiving numerous national, regional and local awards for its values-based culture and other work-life balance programs. The company was recently named one of the 25 Best Small Companies to Work for in America for the second year in a row by the Great Place to Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management. In 2005, Huling was awarded the Turknett Leadership Character Award for outstanding demonstration of integrity, respect and accountability. Reach him at [email protected].

Treasured memories

I stood in the bow of the raft, balancing myself against the turbulence of the water, and said goodbye to the hundred miles of raging whitewater that had been my home for the past six days. Beside me stood my son, Scott, and my daughter, Sarah, also saying farewell.

I saw tears in their eyes that matched my own as I put my arms around them both and knew that the memory of these days together would last forever.

As we later huddled together in the small plane that took us over the mountains, I thought about the memories we shared from this amazing trip — the towering rapid that crashed over my kayak and sent me swimming to the laughter of my children, the talks we had around the campfire after long days of paddling and the deeply spiritual night we slept at the site of a Native American campground.

It wasn’t easy to make time for this trip. My responsibilities at work had never been greater, and there were moments when I wondered how I could possibly be away. But as I watched the river fade into the distance through the small window of the plane, I knew that the memories we had created on that river would last long after my day-to-day concerns at work were forgotten and that the choice to go was one of the best decisions of my life.

This realization illustrates one of the greatest lessons in the business of life: We must choose to create the memories that enrich our lives.

Are you filling your life with moments worth remembering?

Think about the next few weeks on your calendar. Are they punctuated by special plans for an afternoon spent exclusively with one of your children, a surprise dinner with a close friend or a weekend away with your spouse? Or is your calendar consumed by the responsibilities of your life, leaving the special moments to happen by chance?

Here’s a simple exercise to drive home the importance of planning special times in the midst of your busy schedule. Can you remember your specific challenges at work for this same month last year? The things you were worried about, the deadlines you had to meet and how important it all seemed? Probably not.

Now think about what you do remember from last year.

Most likely, you only remember the moments that really mattered. They might be moments you shared with co-workers or with loved ones, big events or smaller, more intimate moments. Some might be painful, while others are moments of real joy and connection with the people you love.

But this is all that you really remember from an entire year of your life. In essence, these memorable moments were your life; the rest was just details.

Why not create a life that is filled with the memory of treasured moments? What do you want your children to remember? The day you took off from work to spend with them, the night you took them to hear their favorite band in concert or the adventure trip that they will never forget?

What do you want the people on your team at work to remember? The special recognition you took time to give them at a company meeting or the afternoon you spent offering them personal mentoring?

These special memories, and all the others you want your life to include, won’t happen unless you make time to create them. Some will be as simple as choosing a date, while others may require a series of steps. For my adventure trip, I spent a year completing at least one task each week, such as researching rivers, making reservations or buying gear.

The six days on the river were simply the final step, but with planning, I was able to weave all of these tasks into my schedule while still fulfilling my other responsibilities.

You can create a life that is rich with special moments and real connections with the people you care about, but to do so, you must take action. Start by opening your calendar right now and making time in the coming week for an experience that will one day be a treasured memory.

You’ll be glad you did.

Jim Huling is CEO of MATRIX Resources, Inc., an IT services company that has achieved industry-leading financial growth while receiving numerous national, regional and local awards for its values-based culture and other work-life balance programs. The company was recently named one of the 25 Best Small Companies to Work for in America for the second year in a row by the Great Place to Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management. In 2005, Huling was awarded the Turknett Leadership Character Award for outstanding demonstration of integrity, respect and accountability. Reach him at [email protected].

Control your inner dialogue

Do you remember the first thought you had today? Perhaps it was something like this: “I’m worried about that project. The meeting probably won’t go well. I’ll never solve that problem.”

With these first thoughts, you began an inner dialogue that will repeat continuously throughout the day.

Before long, you’ll expand this dialogue to include your concern for the tragedies you heard on the morning news, your anger at the inconsiderate drivers on the road and resentment of the boss who doesn’t appreciate you. By mid-day, this stream of unconscious negative messages will be in full force, shaping the way you see the people and circumstances of your life. And because it’s so familiar, you may be unaware that the dialogue even exists.

When you allow these thoughts to dominate your mind, it’s like someone standing behind you throughout the day, whispering into your ear, “This is not going well. You can’t trust anyone. You’ve failed before, and you’ll probably fail again.”

Your mind accepts this endless repetition of negative thoughts as reality, and this acceptance creates a negative perspective on your life, undermines your confidence and diminishes your hope. Most important, these thoughts can drain the energy you need to create the life you want.

What if, today, you decided to think differently?

My wonderful wife, Donna, once taught me that a miracle can be as simple as a change in perspective. And this is what happens when we begin to take control of our inner dialogue as one of the most important tools in the business of life — a change in our perspective that can open a floodgate of energy.

You can begin right now by filling your mind with gratitude. Think about each aspect of your life for which you are grateful and say them out loud with real passion: “I’m grateful for another day. I’m grateful for my family, for my health and the love that enriches my life. I’m grateful for my work and the income it provides.”

Could you feel the difference? Even if you were skeptical, did you sense your energy lift as you expressed your gratitude again and again?

Now think about a specific challenge you are concerned about at work, one where there are consequences if you fail and no easy answers in sight, and say the following phrases several times: “I can do this. I have the talent and the experience I need to be successful. This is going to turn out well.”

Did you feel a shift in your perspective?

When you approach a challenge by keeping your thoughts focused on a positive outcome, you generate the energy and confidence you need to be successful, instead of constantly undermining yourself. In the end, you will not only deliver a better result, your entire experience of working on the challenge will be transformed.

What about your relationships outside of work? Do you have a friend or family member who is causing you concern? Examine your inner dialogue about them and you may hear something like this: “He never takes responsibility for his actions. Everything he does turns out badly. I’m always afraid for him.”

Changing your inner dialogue about another person can also have a truly transformational effect. Replace your negative thoughts with a positive acknowledgement of some aspect of the person, such as: “Each of his choices is teaching him a valuable lesson. I know he’s capable of changing. I believe in him.”

You’ll be surprised at what happens to both of you. Your positive focus will not only shape your perspective, it will give the other person the empowering gift of your belief and confidence in them.

Finally, remember that whether it is positive or negative, your inner dialogue is unstoppable. It continuously shapes your perspective on every aspect of your life. Only you have the power to choose the content of that dialogue.

By choosing thoughts that empower you and the people around you, you will create a powerful shift in perspective, a shift that will generate newfound energy not only in yourself but in your team and your loved ones.

Why not begin today?

Jim Huling is CEO of MATRIX Resources Inc., an IT services company that has achieved industry-leading financial growth while receiving numerous national, regional and local awards for its values-based culture and other work-life balance programs. The company was recently named one of the 25 Best Small Companies to Work for in America for the second year in a row by the Great Place to Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management. In 2005, Huling was awarded the Turknett Leadership Character Award for outstanding demonstration of integrity, respect and accountability. Reach him at [email protected].

Rising indicators

Economists think that inflation is largely a monetary phenomenon — more money chasing fewer goods. But this doesn’t really intuitively make sense.

If we doubled the money supply, then apples would cost twice as much, but we would have twice the dollars and we wouldn’t feel poorer. Inflation only causes real pain when prices rise faster than incomes and reduce our standard of living.

The truth is that inflation is the economy’s means of financing new, young generations that will become highly productive in the future and the new technologies these new generations bring.

Young people are expensive to raise, and they aren’t productive — they cost everything and produce almost nothing — but they do bring new innovations in technologies and thinking. And when they finally enter the work force, they become the next highly productive workers and spenders that drive the economy and adopt those new technologies and new business models.

Therefore, due to the effect of young people, innovation and inflation go hand in hand.

This occurred in the late 1960s and 1970s, as the massive baby boom generation transitioned from schools into the work force, and the technologies that are driving our economy today were largely born during that time. Inflationary times, though difficult, are a time of great growth and opportunity for new entrepreneurs.

In 1989, we found a strong correlation with work force growth rates on a two- to three-year lag and inflation, similar to that of the correlation between the spending wave and economic growth and stock prices. There are obviously short-term gyrations due to political and economic cycles, but the long-term trend follows this indicator quite reliably.
(See chart below.)

After 2010, baby-boomer retirement will more than offset echo boom entry and create the first long-term slowing of the work force since the 1930s. This will lead to outright deflation — not inflation — which the United States last experienced in the 1930s and early 1940s, and Japan experienced in the 1990s and early 2000s.

This is an essential point for business owners. You do not want to expand your business during a deflationary downturn. In such a case, your income is likely to stagnate or even fall, while your liabilities will not.

Expanding through the purchase of new, expensive machinery would likely leave you with excess capacity, which will force you to lower prices. If demand for your product is dependent on the overall health of the economy — and most are — you absolutely must have a strategy to confront falling prices.

As a matter of practicality, try to have your business debts cut down to a manageable level by 2010. If you are well-prepared for deflation, your business can be ready for the next economic upturn.

One of the consequences of a deflationary downturn is that businesses face a major shakeout, and many fail. Those that survive create the longer-term leaders of the future.

The years between 2011 and 2023 will very likely be the most challenging time for our economy, businesses and investors since the 1930s. Businesses should gain market share in the coming boom from 2006 into 2010, but then be mean and lean ahead of the downturn and deflationary era ahead after 2010 — or choose to sell out by 2010.

Harry S. Dent Jr. is a noted author who has written several books, including two bestsellers. He has appeared on Good Morning America, PBS, CNBC, CNN/Fn, and has been featured in numerous publications including Barron’s, Investor’s Business Daily, Entrepreneur, Fortune, Success, US News & World Report and The Wall Street Journal. Dent received his MBA from Harvard Business School, where he was a Baker Scholar. For information on his research, visit the new H.S. Dent Foundation Web site at www.hsdent.com.

Invest energy in what matters

“You’re not really listening to me, are you?”

The question snapped my attention back to the executive who was briefing me.

Although I was tempted to deny it, it was true. I wasn’t really listening and I couldn’t even remember when I had stopped.

We were at the end of a long day filled with nonstop meetings, including a team meeting over sandwiches at lunch. Technically, I had time for this final meeting — the slot was open on my calendar — but what I didn’t have was energy.

“No, I’m not,” I confessed to my teammate who, fortunately, was also my friend. “I’m exhausted, and I just don’t have the energy left to give you or this issue the attention you deserve. I’m sorry.”

In that moment, I realized I had scheduled the meeting without considering the implied commitment I was making to focus and engage at a high level at the end of a very long day. As a result, I made a promise to a person who mattered, on an issue that mattered, that I could not fulfill.

The disappointment on the face of my teammate taught me one of the greatest lessons in the business of life — the importance of managing our energy.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever found yourself with available time but without the energy, focus or passion that you needed?

Whether in a business meeting or engaging with a spouse or child at the end of our day, it has happened to all of us. And when it does, we often disappoint the people who matter most.

Compare this way of managing your energy with the way you manage your time.

Would you commit to a two-hour meeting if you only had 30 minutes available? Of course not. But we routinely make commitments for energy that are equally unrealistic because we don’t evaluate them as closely.

If we want to be truly successful, we must learn to pace our energy with the same careful planning that we do our time.

Take a look at the next particularly busy day on your calendar and place a number between one and five beside each meeting or activity to indicate the energy that will be required, with five representing the highest level.

Now, evaluate the pacing of your day. Is it realistic?

Many times, we schedule consecutive meetings for which the energy requirement is level five and believe that we can sustain that level of concentration and engagement throughout all of them without any need for recovery. This is usually self-deception. Even though we may want to perform at our peak all day, the people around us can see that our energy is progressively declining.

Mapping your energy requirements and then realistically evaluating your capacity will help ensure that the promises you make are ones you can keep.

And what about your commitment to those outside of work? If we were asked whether our work was more important than our family, most of us would quickly say no. But paradoxically, we deplete ourselves throughout the day on the unconscious assumption that our family and friends don’t need our prime energy.

Choose one day this week to imagine that you have an important meeting with your boss scheduled that evening, and then watch how you automatically reserve enough energy to be at your best. Do the people you care about most deserve anything less?

You’ll be surprised at how much it means to them when you ensure you have energy left at the end of the day to give.

Finally, remember that your energy capacity can be expanded to be greater than it is today. Focusing on the people and activities that strengthen you and enrich your life, such as exercise, prayer, time alone and close interaction with those you love, will not only replenish you, they will increase your ability to create the life you want.

Begin today to take personal responsibility for how you invest your energy, and you’ll be amazed at the results.

Jim Huling is CEO of MATRIX Resources, Inc., an IT services company that was recently recognized as one of the 25 Best Small Companies to Work For in America by the Great Place to Work Institute. Reach him at [email protected].

The ultimate forecasting tool

Since the 1970s, sophisticated marketing database models have emerged for targeting finer segments of consumers by age, income and lifestyles, all the way down to ZIP codes and neighborhood blocks. Demographics have become the holy grail for marketers and advertisers.

The truth is there is a more powerful application for demographics in business planning and strategy than most people are aware of. A broader understanding of demographics can help us predict what new generations of consumers will do as they age. The life insurance industry was the first to use demographic data for actuarial predictions, computing when the average person will die in order to better assess risk when creating life insurance policies. They already understood that demographics are destiny.

Demographics can similarly help businesses and consumers see the key trends that will affect their futures decades in advance. That’s because people do many predictable things as they age that impact our economy, business and product trends. So for the business owner, the logic is simple: Once you have identified your demographic market, you can accurately predict what the demand for your business will be based on the relevant demographic trends for your business and its geographic scope.

An understanding of these trends will enable you to better manage your business or even exit your existing business altogether and find new opportunities.

Before we discuss the specifics for business owners, a little background is necessary. The demographic statistics that we are talking about are collected primarily by government agencies, and they allow us to document the consumer life cycle from cradle to grave. This life cycle impacts everything from the demand for potato chips to luxury homes — locally, nationally and globally.

The most powerful demographic trend — the one that has dominated the U.S. economy for decades — is the progression of the baby boomer generation. But the stages of a consumer’s life cycle, no matter which generation, remain the same.

The first stage of the consumer life cycle is childhood and adolescence. This is when parents and government make an investment in the consumers and workers of the future at great expense, paying to raise them and educate them.

These young people enter the work force at age 20.5 on average today, with additional investment and expense to businesses to provide them with workspace, technologies/equipment, training and, of course, a paycheck. When the largest numbers of young people are entering the work force, inflation pressures for the economy are at their peak due to these costs and investments. Innovation also thrives, on a slight lag, as newly educated young people enter the work force with new ideas and viewpoints.

The next stage is family formation, or marriage, at age 26, on average. That stimulates the need for apartments and new retail stores for these new households’ accelerating spending cycle. Children soon follow, and after that will come the first home purchase, around age 31.

After that, it’s on to the next home, more furnishings and cars, etc. Trade-up homebuying and mortgage debt peaks between ages 37 and 42. Consumers continue to furnish their homes and spend more on durable goods into the overall peak in earning and spending between ages 46 and 50.

After age 50, the average household spends less for the rest of their lives, allowing growth in savings and investment. The peak rate of investment occurs around age 54, as does leisure travel.

Investment continues into retirement at around age 63, and net worth peaks just after that at around age 64. Many aspects of health care spending, such as pharmaceuticals, continue to grow until the average age of death, which is 78.

Given that we now have highly quantifiable data on all of the key things we do as we age, the economy and many business trends are largely predictable decades into the future.

In future articles, we will look at how demographic trends affect our economy, stock prices, inflation, interest rates, innovation cycles, new technologies, product and industry trends, real estate, immigration and domestic migration, and new business models for management and organization. The conclusion will shock you. It’s not the Federal Reserve or Chairman Ben Bernanke who act as primary drivers of our economy … it’s Homer Simpson.

Harry S. Dent Jr. is a noted author who has written several books, including two best sellers. He has appeared on “Good Morning America,” PBS, CNBC, CNN/Fn, and has been featured in numerous publications, including Barron’s, Investor’s Business Daily, Entrepreneur, Fortune, Success, U.S. News & World Report, and The Wall Street Journal. Dent received his MBA from Harvard Business School, where he was a Baker Scholar. For more information on his research, visit the new H.S. Dent Foundation Web site at www.hsdent.com.

Acting with conscious kindness

I was already late when the shuttle bus stopped outside the airport and I realized that I had forgotten to lock my car. There were valuable items in the car that I did not want to risk losing, but I couldn’t make the trip back to the parking facility without missing my flight. The dilemma left me stressed and frustrated.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” the bus driver named Ezekiel asked, sensing my distress. When I explained the situation, he smiled and promised to lock the car, writing down the space number where I had left it. He refused my offer to pay him, saying, “I’m happy to do it.” I rushed into the airport filled with relief and gratitude at this unexpected act of kindness from a stranger.

On one level, this could simply be a story of good customer service. But for me, it illustrates one of the great lessons in the business of life: the power of kindness.

There were many other passengers on the bus that morning anxious to be shuttled to other airlines. He could have simply hurried on, and yet Ezekiel chose to stop and offer kindness to a troubled stranger. It was a choice that had a profound impact.

A short time later, I was at the security checkpoint behind a woman traveling with two small children. The line was stopped as she struggled to carry one child and herd another through the process of removing shoes and belts.

“Oh, great. This is all we need,” said a man behind me in an angry voice. And then I saw the look on the woman’s face, a look similar to the one Ezekiel must have seen on mine earlier that morning.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” I asked, handing her two of the plastic trays used for personal items.

“Would you?” she said, giving me a diaper bag and her purse. “I’m happy to do it,” I said, as she filled the trays with toys, shoes and her toddler’s pink backpack. I placed her purse and diaper bag on the conveyer belt. As she guided the children through the metal detector, she glanced back at me with a smile of gratitude on her face. It gave me a feeling of real joy.

Sometimes in the business of life, we can be so focused on ourselves that we think our needs are the only ones that matter. We become angry and impatient at anyone, or anything, that hinders us. When the car in front of us drives too slowly or we have to wait for a cashier to check the price of an item, we respond in ways that later make us feel regretful or ashamed.

But we always have a choice.

Sometime soon, if not today, you will be under stress at work. And when it happens, you can choose to be angry and more demanding of the people around you, or you can remember that they are under similar stress and you can offer to help them.

When frustration begins to spill over into your relationships with your family or friends, you can choose to lash out, saying things that you will later regret, or you can stop to remember that these are the people you care most about and you can choose to treat them with patience and love.

These are the choices that ultimately define who you are. And in your final moments of life, these are the choices you will wish you had made. Why not make them now?

Remember also that each choice to show kindness to another person ripples outward from that person to another and another, beyond your imagination.

“Excuse me, sir. I believe you dropped this,” I heard a woman’s voice call out after a man rolling his bag toward the check-in counter – the same woman I had helped earlier.

She handed him a small plastic card that I could see was his driver’s license. “Thank you so much,” he said, realizing the enormous difficulty he would have faced attempting to travel without it.

“I’m happy to do it,” was all I heard her say.

Jim Huling is CEO of MATRIX Resources Inc., an IT services company that was recently recognized as one of the 25 Best Small Companies to Work For in America by the Great Place to Work Institute. Contact Huling at [email protected] or (770) 677-2400.